Friday, October 6, 2023

Worldbuilding 101 for Writers: Writing Magic Systems Using Science

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

Magic and technology are important elements of speculative fiction, technology for science fiction and magic and/or fantastical creatures for fantasy. But what if you don’t want to use a magic system in your story? 

That’s perfectly fine. Not every fantasy book has to have magic in it, just like not every fantasy needs to include unicorns, elves, or epic road trips across New Zealand … er … Middle Earth. 

This is even more true for readers within the Christian market. Most of the time, the Christian market doesn’t need a magic system to enjoy a fantasy story.

But what if you’re not writing specifically for the Christian market? What if you’re hoping to speak to the general market? My understanding of the industry at this point in time is that the line between the markets has blurred. 

And the fact is, my friends, that if you want to reach a general market audience, they expect a fantasy story to include some form of magic. So if you aren’t comfortable writing a magic system, does that mean you can’t write fantasy for the general market? 

Not at all. 

There are many different avenues you can take to attract a general market audience using a “magic system” that isn’t magical at all.

So far, we’ve talked about Existing History, People and Social Circles, Language and Communication, Climate and Geography, Agriculture, Faith and Religion, Government and Economics, and, last month, we started the conversation about Technology and Magic Systems. 

The thing about Magic and Science? Well, it’s complicated. And trying to communicate it in the context of your speculative world is even more complicated, so we’re going to keep talking about it this month, if that’s all right with you guys. We’re just going to come at it from a different perspective: What if your magic system isn’t really magic at all?

Many Christian speculative authors I know use a form of the supernatural in place of a magic system. They simply attribute the unexplainable or the extraordinarily powerful to a God-like figure or to a character who intentionally represents God.

After all, without a Bible-based understanding of the miraculous, what Jesus did during His time on Earth would have been seen as magic. So coming at your magic system using a Deity or a symbolic supernatural system is perfectly viable. However, here’s what you need to be aware of: 

If you’re going to symbolically exchange a fantasy magic system for elements of Biblical supernatural events, you must have a DEEP understanding of Scripture and doctrine. 

If you don’t truly grasp the deep details of Christian faith, you can’t represent them symbolically in a way that maintains their accuracy theologically. So if you decide to go this route, let me encourage you to dive into the Bible with every ounce of focus you have. I hope you’re already studying Scripture on a regular basis, (if you’re not, I write fast, daily devotionals for busy folks) but attempting something like this requires deeper study. 

Know the Word. Know the Truth. And ask for help, both from the Holy Spirit and from trusted mentors and advisors to review what you’ve written for accuracy. 

But that’s not the only way to write a magic system. It’s entirely possible to create a magic system to function in your fantasy world based on scientific principles.

An existing example that I usually like to point to is an anime called Fullmetal Alchemist. There are two versions of the anime, the original and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Both are brilliant examples of a magic system that is based on scientific principles (and both are stunning stories about the sanctity of human life and the danger of playing God).

But for today, I’m going to focus on my own series, which I mentioned briefly last month. I am in the process of writing a gigantic superhero series. One of the primary groups in the series is a team of samurai warriors with elemental armors, called the Reishosan. (If there are any 80s kids reading this, here’s a fun little Easter egg for you; my Reishosan series was inspired by an old anime called Ronin Warriors. You’re welcome.)

As I was designing this group, I knew that their armors needed to be super-powered. They needed to have abilities that went beyond what is physically possible to an ordinary human. But I also wanted each character to experience a journey of learning how to control their armors’ powers. 

When each character receives his armor, they don’t know how to use it. It didn’t come with an instruction manual, after all. They have to get to know the armor, and at the start, it seems like the armors are magical. Why? Because they can do unexplainable things. They have unexplainable power. But they aren’t magic. They are entirely technological. 

They were built by a more advanced civilization with a greater understanding of artificial intelligence, and they have been forged with a special mineral (spoilers) that gives them control over certain elements. There’s nothing magical about it. But the characters don’t know that until they learn how to use the armors. 

And, just as an aside, there are nine armors total, and each one is symbolic of a Fruit of the Spirit. The armors themselves represent the Holy Spirit Himself, with the concept that some battles are too big for a human being to fight, and we need help from a higher power. 

If you don’t want to use a magic system, don’t give up writing fantasy. There are many options you can use to reach a fantasy audience without having to create or define a magic system. The fact remains, however, that most fantasy readers expect a taste of the fantastic. So keep that in mind as you design your cultures and civilizations, because access to either science or magic will shape the way your world and your characters develop.


Don't Miss the Other Posts in this Series!

Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at

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